End of the Rainbow – Judy’s swansong at the Wolverhampton Grand

If ‘Over the Rainbow’ was Judy Garland’s signiture tune, then ‘End of the Rainbow’ is definitely her swansong. The play, that started a three night run at the Wolverhampton Grand last night, is the story of the screen legend in the months before she died, during a 6 week run at London’s ‘Talk of the Town’. This is Judy destroyed by the alcohol, the pills, the late nights, bad men and heartache, with no will to go on with the show anymore.

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Set in London in the early months of 1969, the play is a three hander concerning Judy, her fiance Mickey Deans and her erstwhile piano player Anthony Chapman. Judy has signed to a 6 week run at ‘The Talk of the Town’. and Deans, her latest fiance (and soon to be 5th husband) is trying to keep the actress clean of drink and drugs. But Judy is an addict, and can no longer perform without these ‘props’ to get her through. She disintegrates further into a drugs haze as the pressures of the engagement at ‘The Talk of the Town’ mount. Her only friend and ally is her old friend and pianist Anthony, gay, but with such love for Judy that he wants to rescue and protect her. But time is running out for Judy.

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Playing Judy is television star Lisa Maxwell in what can only be described as a tour de force performance. Lisa is Judy, warts and all, with the accent, mannerisms and powerful, inimitable singing voice all in place. Her performance is simply heartbreaking, particularly when she struggles with her microphone wire and gets the songs all confused, and yet there are moments of real humour and wit that have you laughing out loud. You really want her Judy to be well, she brings so much passion and sparkle to the role, and shows brilliant comic timing too, especially during the ‘Cocker Spaniel’ scene.

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As Mickey Deans, ex Eastenders star Sam Attwater is a revelation. He has a huge stage presence and masculinity that is just right for Judy’s much younger new fiance. He makes Mickey, who could be a two dimensional muscle man, into a complex character – you are really not sure if he genuinely loves Judy and wants her to be clean, or whether he has set his cap at her as a meal ticket. Sam and Lisa’s battling lovers scenes are a joy to behold, giving you that uneasy feeling of laughing at something that is really quite sad and tragic – no mean feat.

The stage veteran Gary Wilmot plays Anthony as the most sympathetic character, a loyal friend to Judy who only wants what is best for her. Gary is the quiet heart of the play, and his final role, as the narrator to Judy’s final fate is poignant and devastating, delivered with quiet dignity by the one character who always retains that.

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A beautiful one room set that somehow transforms itself from an hotel room to a nightclub, stunning costumes for Judy that are uncannily like her real London outfits from 1969, and those show-stopping tunes, including a spine-tingling rendition of ‘Over the Rainbow’ make this an unmissable show that lingers in the memory long after you leave the theatre. ‘End of the Rainbow’ is the seedy, sad tragedy that shows the dark side of show business.

End of the Rainbow
Tue 19 Apr – Wed 20 Apr
Click here for ticket information.

 

Little Voice brings Judy and Marilyn to life at the Birmingham Rep

One of the most memorable scenes in modern film is the one where a drunken, shambolic Ray Say, played by the magnificent Michael Caine, sings an expletive laden version of ‘It’s Over’ by Roy Orbison. This is, of course, a scene from Little Voice, the film version of the National theatre smash hit ‘The Rise and Fall of the Little Voice’, and it is one of my favourite films. So I had very high expectations of the new touring production starring ex Coronation Street stalwarts Vicky Entwhistle and Chris Gascoyne that opened at the Birmingham Rep last night. I’m pleased to say that the play and performances exceeded every single one of them. It is magnificent.

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Little Voice is a fragile, introverted young girl with a secret, awe-inspiring talent. Living with the blousy Mari, a vulgar lush excuse of a mother, she spends all of her time in her bedroom, listening to the cherished records left to her by her late father, the music of doomed divas like Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Billie Holiday and Maria Callas. When a drunk Mari brings local big shot Ray Say home, a power cut leads him to discover Little Voice’s very big talent for mimicking her idols to almost uncanny effect. Ray hears the cash tills ringing as he realises that the timid girl may just be the meal ticket he has spent his whole life looking for. This sets up a chain of events that may just destroy Mari, Ray and Little Voice, and all they hold dear to them.

Vicky Entwistle as Mari and Chris Gascoyne as Ray Say in The Rise And Fa...

Little Voice is played by Nancy Sullivan and it is one hell of a performance. She is totally believable when shy and nervous, but when she transforms into the performing Little Voice she literally raises the roof with her performances as Shirley Bassey, Judy Garland, and a tremendous Edith Piaf. It is an awesome performance, totally powerful and unforgettable.

Nancy Sullivan as LV in The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice. Photo by Keit...Vicky Entwhistle and Chris Gascoyne are also perfect, and, at times, hilariously funny in a triumphant double act. Chris just oozes oily charm as Ray Say, all white socks and slip on shoes – you can almost smell the Brut reeking from him. He shows great range in taking Ray from a sleazy charmer to a nasty, predatory bully who shows no qualms in using violence against his star act. And ‘that’ performance of ‘It’s over’ is a brilliant tour de force.

Chris Gascoyne as Ray Say and Vicky Entwistle as Mari in The Rise And Fa...

Vicky Entwhistle is also superb as Mari, a bully of a mother and friend. She is brash, charmless and an horrific mother, but in Vicky’s hands she is also hilarious and very real. Mari may be a nasty vicious bully to those closest to her, but she has also been hurt and abused too and Vicky lets these glimpses of pathos come through, not least in the scene where she holds up the ash of her furniture.

Vicky Entwistle as Mari in The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice. Photo by K...The supporting cast are also impressive, from the hilarious Joanne Brookes as Sadie, overweight and chastised for it by Mari (‘come and choose a chair to crush’ being an example), to Brendan Charleson as the fabulously named Mr Boo (don’t shout my name too loud you’ll scare me). Tendayi Jembere is just lovely as Little Voice’s love interest Billy, another gentle soul who loves lights the same way Little Voice loves music. His scenes with Nancy Sullivan give the play real heart.

Joanna Brokes as Sadie and Vicky Entwistle as Mari in The Rise And Fall ...

Little Voice is a true modern classic, one full of memorable, shocking, funny and tender moments, all of which help to create an unforgettable theatre experience.

Little Voice is at the Birmingham Rep until 30th May. For ticket information click here.

 

The perfume diaries – the sweet smell of Harrods

 

Chanel No 5

Image by The Style PA via Flickr

 

Fashion-Mommy was lucky enough to get to see ‘The Perfume Diaries’ exhibition that was showing at Harrods recently, and I am pleased to say that it both looked, and smelt amazing.

Perfume has been with us for a long time, far longer than I would have believed, and the Harrods exhibition was a celebration of this fact. There was a selection of herbs and flowers that go to make up different perfumes, and a selection of vials that you could smell, although some of these were extremely strong, a bit like smelling salts.

Every top brand was featured in the exhibition, which was designed like a timeline to perfume. The perfumes and perfumers were featured in chronological order, and it was surprising to see that some perfumes had been with us for so long.  I love Floris fragrances, and could not believe that this brand had been with us since the 18th century. Je Reviens – a favourite of my mom’s was shockingly revealed as a turn of the century fragrance. Whilst the fabulous Tresor by Lancome has been around since the 1950’s.

There were stunning, original, iconic perfume bottles on display everywhere. These ranged from fab 1950’s ‘Lady Dior’ bottles in coloured glass, Art Deco Lalique bottles for l’air du temps, Schiaparelli bottles designed by Salvador Dai, and my personal favourites, the Lanvin ladies.

 

Lanvin Ladies

 

There was a great display to the amazing Elizabeth Arden, one of my absolute heroines. I couldn’t survive without her eight-hour cream, whilst Red Door is a favourite fragrance. I always remember my best friend Dawn wearing ‘Blue Grass’ when we were younger and it is a smell that evokes pleasant memories of youth for me.

 

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The exhibition was extremely pretty, and what made it more so was the additional displays that helped to illustrate the fashion timeline of the each era. There was a beautiful Dior dress to illustrate the 1950’s, along with a giant Ferragamo wedge shoe. There was an original pair of shoes belonging to Judy Garland, and a film which featured Marilyn Monroe, who allegedly slept in Chanel No 5. The 1960’s display sported a stunning 1960’s Pucci dress in a vibrant print, whilst the 1980’s Halston dress in midnight blue sequins screamed the decadence of Studio 54.

 

Pucci dress - so 1960's.

 

The modern section showed the rise of the celebrity perfumes, with Kate Moss, Victoria Beckham, Sarah Jessica Parker and Jennifer Lopez all featured, along with the immortal Elizabeth Taylor, who kickstarted the celebrity sprays.

 

Hermes display

 

At the end of the exhibition, you felt that you needed to buy perfume. Maybe you’d rediscovered an old favourite, or found a new one. Either way, you had to pay a quick visit to the Harrods perfume department on your way out…